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tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  November 21, 2011 2:00am-3:00am PST

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[ male announcer ] write your story with the citi thankyou premier card, with no point caps, and points that don't expire. get started at thankyoucard.citi.com. we were in love. >> they were so happy at first. sharing a lover's perch, high atop a cliff. but romance turned to death. >> she said if anything happens to me, you'll know who did it. >> a mystery of nearly 20 years heads into court and now a husband is on the precipice. >> did you kill your wife, jody? >> i did not kill jody. >> what happened on the cliff's edge?
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>> good evening and welcome to"dateline." i'm ann curry. when police got word someone fell off a cliff they weren't surprised. the place was known to be dangerous but it would take almost 20 years to find out what really happened to a woman out on an evening hike with her husband. here's chris january sing. jansing. ♪ the summer wind came blowing in ♪ >> every couple has t a shared song, a favorite movie or maybe a special place. steven scharf says for him this was it, two rocks forming a lover's chair on the edge of a cliff. >> that was our spot, we'd bring a hibachi, couple of lawn chairs, a cooler and she'd bring her work from graduate school. >> they'd been escaping to this magical place for years, ever since they were newlyweds in a
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starter apartment in new jersey. up here, the air was fresh and the views seemed limitless. >> it sort of framed by trees but could you look down and to the right and see the view of george washington bridge. >> what they couldn't see from here of course was the future. had they caught even a glimpse of what was to come, surely they would have abandoned this place forever. steven and jody met in the late '70s in georgia. he was in the army, a bookworm who loved the civil war. she taught history. theirs was a meeting first of minds, then hearts. how would you sort of describe those early years? were they loving? were they exciting? >> yes, they were. we were in love, ecstatic. >> from there, marriage, a house, a son, jonathan, in 1983,
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and how would you describe jody as a mom? >> she was really devoted. >> life was good, and even as the years went by, even with the demands of work and family, steven says he and jody still made time for each other, like that last summer sunday in september of 1992. steven says it was supposed to be a date night. >> it wasn't -- no idea that that would be the most critical day in our life, in our marriage. >> what was the day like, any other day? >> yes. >> here was the plan, husband and wife would drive into omedy club, a light-hearted night on the town but they made a detour here to the palisades, to their spot. steven remembers pulling up to the scenic lookout, sitting in the car with jody, sharing a wine cooler. >> there were other people there sitting in their cars and we walked up, looked over the spot where the binoculars were, and then walked up, you know, to
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this sort of open view. >> he says they then turned and took a narrow well-worn path to those rocks. they sat there, as the night fell around them. he, with his back against the rock, holding her, as she sat directly in front of him. at some point, something goes terribly wrong. >> yes. >> he says he stood up, intending to go back to the car to get wine and a blanket. for whatever reason, jody stood up, too. the edge of the rock was at her feet. what was your last glimpse of your wife? >> just standing up and you know, and stumbling forward. >> jody had gone off the cliff. >> i didn't know how bad things were, but i was stunned. i -- >> what did you do? >> i got down on my stomach, i stuck my head over the, and i just yelled, "jody!
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jody! talk to me!" i just yelled down there. >> but no response. he grabbed a flashlight and flagged down a motorist, who came here to the palisades interstate parkway police station. lieutenant walter cyrie was on duty. >> until he came through that door it was a quiet, very quiet night and then all hell broke loose. >> the frantic man was tell them a woman had fallen from the lookout above and that her husband was waiting for help. the police called in michael chioffe, an experienced climber. >> i was there as a rescue mission. i thought she was alive. >> he began to lower himself off the side of the cliff where the woman's husband said she had fallen, about ten feet down. he caught site of a ledge. >> the minute i got to that ledge i observed the purse. i think it was two credit cards. >> on a ledge, ten feet down? >> right. >> but it was what he didn't see that confused him. there was no sign that the woman's body had also hit that
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ledge or any part of the cliffs. >> nothing, no blood, into hair, no clothing, no fibers, no skin. >> by that point, officer walter cyrie had arrived up at the lookout. since there was nothing the husband could do to help in the rescue, cyrie was told to get him out of the way and drove him back down to police headquarters. on the way, steven recounted the awful moment when his wife disappeared. >> we were walking and she said for me to go back to the car and get the blanket and she slipped and i didn't see her anymore. >> as cyrie and the man arrived at the station, rescuer chiofee had made it to the base of the cliff, more than 100 feet below the top. he expected to find a wounded woman there but he didn't. >> i'm saying, she's not here. at the first point i said maybe this is a hoax. maybe she never really went off the cliff. >> he and other rescuer began to walk along the base, pointing their flashlights north finally
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about 30 feet away the beams landed on something white. it was jody, lying motionless, next to a tree. >> it was a lot of blood on that tree, and the blood was actually draining down the tree. that's where severe impact took, that's where she really, you know. >> jody sharp had not survived the fall. to chiofee it was clear, she had slammed into that tree. as they began to move the body he noticed something else. >> she had an odor of an alcoholic beverage that emanated from her body. >> so when you smelled that, did you think well maybe she had had too much to drink and fell? >> that entered my mind, yes. >> at that moment, steven scharf was sitting in a room at the police station, waiting for someone to tell him what had happened to his wife. do you remember what's going through your mind at that point? >> how badly is she hurt? where is she? why isn't she calling back to me. >> that's when an officer walked into the room and broke the news
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to steven, jody was gone. >> i don't even remember who came in and told me. >> and what was your reaction? >> denial. it was how could this, could this happen? >> that question would haunt him and many others, taken would take years for the answers to finally come. coming up -- >> he was rubbing his eyes to make it look like he was crying. >> you thought he was faking tears? >> absolutely. >> curious behavior puts a husband under the microscope. ew. hey, mom? what? pay you? for what? for unloading the dishwasher?! kid, you need to pay me for making this delicious -- whoa. hold on there, mom. kitchen counselor. um, mom, i think what she means is "greasy dishes." yeah. in fact, check it out. cascade complete pacs are the ones with the real liquid top. they fight tough greasy messes better than the other tablet, which can leave more tough grease behind.
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it was the worst night of his life, and now stephen scharf, in the early morning hours of september 21, 1992, had to tell his 10-year-old son jonathan his mother was dead. >> i said, come on, jonathan, we need to take a walk, and i told him, and he immediately burst into tears. and i cried. i cried like a baby. i wasn't ashamed. >> he remembers his distraught son's reaction but little else from those dark hours. were you sleeping? were you eating? were you -- >> drinking. >> you were drinking. >> i lost my wife, my son lost his mom. >> there was plenty of sympathy
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among family and friends, to be sure, for the man newly widowed with a small child to raise on his own. his wife had died in a freak accident, off a cliff, of all places. how could that happen? and that's exactly what police who were there the night of jody's death wanted to know, too. >> right away i got a feeling that there was something definitely wrong. >> it nagged at rescuer michael chiafi. why was jody's purse on a ledge just feet below where her husband said she had fallen? >> where is she? she should be here or part of her should be here. >> that's the first thing that came to you. >> either she should be here or the pocketbook should be with her. and it wasn't fitting. >> another thought dawned on him. if jody had tumbled, why hadn't she hit the side of the cliffs? there was no blood or hair anywhere on the rocks. and the location of jody's body seemed off to chiafi.
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way off. >> she was like 30 to 40 feet away from us to the north. if a person falls off a cliff, usually they're going to go south or they're going to go right down. should have been right down where i got off the ropes. that's where she should have been. >> someone else was scratching his head about that night for different reasons. it had to do with stephen's behavior while the search was under way. officer walter ciere was surprised stephen was willing to leave the lookout as rescuers were still looking for jody. did he give any indication, i don't want to leave, my wife could still be alive down there? >> no, none at all. >> ciery says he couldn't believe how willingly stephen scharf got into his patrol car. >> i tell you, if it was my wife, girlfriend, whoever, they would have to pry me away from that scene if i was still at the top of the cliffs. >> but he willingly got into your patrol car. >> without a word said. >> stranger still was how calm the husband seemed. when the officer heard stephen describe how his wife had
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fallen, he made a mental note. >> there was no emotion in it, i mean no emotion at all. like he was reading a script. >> did it occur to you, well, maybe he's in shock? >> no. i've seen people who have lost loved ones, and i've never seen anybody act that way. >> it was a particular moment later inside the station house that really caught the officer's attention. >> and he asked if he could get a drink from the water fountain. he was looking over his shoulder at me and splashing water up into his face and rubbing his eyes to make it look like he was crying. >> you thought he was faking tears? >> absolutely. absolutely. >> a death scene where the pieces didn't connect. a husband who appeared nonchalant. from a cop's point of view, things were adding up and not in stephen's favor. >> not just one thing. it was like the totality of the circumstances. everything -- every little thing
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was clicking in my mind, i'm saying to myself, you know, this isn't right. something's wrong here. >> gut instinct is one thing, but evidence is quite another. people handle terrible events in different ways. the police are paid to be suspicious. maybe their view of stephen was too jaundiced. there really was nothing to indicate that jody's fall was anything but an accident. a few months later, the ruling was in. the bergen county medical examiner concluded the manner of jody scharf's death could not be determined. an accident was as likely as anything else. case closed. or was it? coming up -- so you didn't think this was a horrible accident. >> no. >> the suspicions grow. was there a weapon at this romantic rendezvous? >> you have your wine, cheese, crackers and claw hammer. red flares are going up,
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jody scharf's death on these cliffs had been a horrible accident. her husband said so. and the medical examiner wasn't arguing with him. but detectives have a kind of sixth sense about cases. it was telling james linem something sinister had happened. so you didn't think this was a horrible accident. >> no. >> there wasn't any smoking gun, really. just something dark linem thought he could read between the lines in the police notes he reviewed the day after jody's death. >> he did not react like somebody who just lost his wife should have reacted. >> so the detective moved his investigation from the physical evidence to the less tangible clues. he quickly learned from jody's friends that this was a couple not in love but in crisis. the subject wasn't wine and roses on those cliffs. it was divorce. >> she was going to go through with it, yes. absolutely.
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>> jody's longtime friend marion hilfredy told detectives that jody had been determined to take her 10-year-old son, jonathan, and leave her husband. she was convinced stephen had been cheating on her. >> she couldn't prove anything, but women called the house and sometimes they'd call and hang up on her. >> in fact, linem learned jody had served her husband divorce papers on september 8th, 1992. less than two weeks later, she was dead at the base of the palisades. the timing made him even more eager to talk to the widower scharf. there's a sitdown with mr. scharf. he's consented to talk, right? >> yes. >> two days after his wife's death, stephen scharf was freely answering detectives' questions. yes, he told them, he and his wife were talking divorce, as they had sometimes done during their tempestuous marriage. and it was true, there were other women.
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>> he told us they had an open marriage. they were seeing different people. he actually said he had been with like 50 to 60 women. >> she was okay with it, according to him. >> according to him, yeah. >> but he told detectives he and jody had become unhappy with their free love lifestyle, so they came to this romantic if treacherous spot to recommit to each other, stephen said, to kiss and make up. >> and the spot where they went is not a spot you'd go to reconcile with anybody. >> detectives weren't buying the story for another reason. they had found something suspicious inside scharf's car, a bag filled with items you'd expect for a romantic picnic and one you would not, a hammer. >> oh, yeah, your wine, cheese, crackers, opener, claw hammer. i mean, if red flags are going up, they reached the top of the pole at that point. >> did you think that might be a murder weapon? >> yeah. i thought that might have been
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plan q "a" and he didn't use it so he went to plan "b." >> which linem believed was to push or throw jody off that cliff. so detectives asked stephen scharf the obvious -- what was the hammer doing in that picnic bag? >> he told us he fixed a drawer in his kitchen with the hammer and he just forgot to put it back in the garage. he put it in the bag with the picnic items. it was just convenient. it was a convenient excuse for having that hammer. >> detectives asked if they could check out the drawer and the rest of stephen's house that night. he agreed. but as it turned out, something potentially far more telling was happening away from the action. >> and i said, look, mr. scharf, i'm your local police department. >> ted aaronburg was a local officer told to keep an eye on stephen scharf that night as detectives combed through his house. the officer says he began talking to stephen about what had happened to jody when stephen interrupted him.
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>> he finally looked at me and he goes, "you don't believe me." >> and then the officer says scharf said something that almost knocked him off his feet. >> i said, i believe an accident occurred. i said, "was it an accident?" and he put his head down and he said, "no." >> aaronburg believed that was a stunning confession. he ran to tell the other detectives, including linem, but they had just spent hours grilling the man. >> we weren't getting that feeling, that a re-interview at that point would have done anything. >> the detectives still believed they could find solid evidence to implicate stephen scharf, but they didn't. >> we took it as far as we could go. there hadn't been a cause of death, at that time was listed as undetermined. so officially it wasn't a homicide. >> in time, the detectives moved on to other cases. stephen scharf moved on, too. fourteen years after his wife's death, he remarried. tina scharf says he's been a
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loving, ideal husband. >> it was like we were two puzzle pieces that were made for each other where we just -- each of us complemented and completed the other person. >> but even in this happy new life he says he's never forgotten about jody. but he might have been surprised to learn that someone else was thinking of her, too, after all these years. bergen county had a new prosecutor, and he was eager to revisit old case files. among them? an unexplained death here on the cliffs of the palisades so many years ago -- the death of jody scharf. >> there was this renewed push since 2002 to look into the cold cases. >> gilbert marcos covered the trial for the record newspaper in new jersey. on one hand he says it didn't seem the prosecutor had any reason to pursue the cold case. >> in terms of hard evidence, it had absolutely nothing new. >> but the prosecutor did have
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someone new, a famous name to join the investigation into jody scharf's death, dr. michael badden, a world-renowned forensic pathologist who investigated the deaths of john f. kennedy and john belushi and testified at the trial of o.j. simpson. he was about to turn up the heat on a very cold case. >> dr. michael badden has reviewed the evidence and has determined that this could not have been an accidental fall. >> in december of 2008, detectives paid one more visit to stephen scharf. >> they wouldn't tell me what it was for. i had no idea what this was about. i mean, it didn't make sense. >> sixteen years after that fatal night on the cliff, police were back and stephen scharf was in for a shock. after all these years, you thought it was done. >> not until they reach behind and hand me this thing, this arrest warrant. coming up -- the case heads into court with a surprise from the stand.
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>> here for my mother. >> stephen and jody scharf's only son has some dark secrets to share. >> did you see that abuse? >> i did. woman: day care can be expensive. so to save some money, i found one that uses robots instead of real people. 'cuz robots work for free. robot 1:good morning... robot 1:...female child. sfx: modem dial-up noise woman: are there flaws? yeah, um, maybe. anncr: there's an easier way to save. anncr: get online. go to geico.com. get a quote. 15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.
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what stuck in his mind -- >> in every murder trial, time is an invisible but crucial player for both sides. >> sixteen years! >> sometimes it hurts a case. memories fade, evidence is lost, witnesses die. but time can also put evidence in a new light. such was the case in the trial of stephen scharf, accused of killing his wife nearly two decades ago. >> there is no statute of limitations on murder. >> the prosecutor promised the evidence would tell a story as simple as it was brutal. a husband determined to avoid a costly divorce lured his wife to the edge of a cliff and forced her off it.
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>> if he has lied, he is guilty. >> the state marshaled some familiar facts to tell its story, starting with the crime scene where the prosecutor said the cliffs showed no sign of an accidental tumble. >> no debris, no blood, no hair, no tissue. >> then there was the husband himself, cool and collected in the back of a police car. >> i didn't see any emotion from him at all, sir. >> who later confessed, the prosecutor said, to killing his wife. >> and then i said, it was an accident? and he said, no. >> but those facts were not where the case ended. the prosecutor argued that they simply set the stage for the real case, a story told by the victim's friends, family, and, most importantly, by a star witness. >> my opinion is that the manner of death is homicide. >> dr. michael baden, the famous forensic pathologist, told jurors the crime scene spoke of
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a murder, not an accident. >> if a person falls accidentally, the individual will be, you know, within a couple of feet of the base of the building. >> and that didn't happen in the case of jody scharf. her body landed 50 feet out from the top of the cliff and 30 feet to the north. >> she had to have been propelled from that point. >> jody had to have been thrown or pushed to her death, he said, and likely from another spot entirely on those cliffs. he wasn't the only expert who saw it that way. >> the head and chest injuries are not consistent with someone that tumbled down the cliff face. >> dr. marianne clayton was the bergen county medical examiner who first ruled the circumstances of jody's death
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could not be determined. now, on second look, she said, the victim's wounds or lack of them told her something different, something vital. if jody had tumbled innocently down the palisades, she would have had broken bones everywhere. she did not. >> there were no visible injuries on the back of mrs. scharf's body. >> but why would stephen have killed his wife? the biggest reason, the prosecutor argued, was that stephen did not want a divorce. he didn't want a custody fight. and he didn't want to split assets with jody. and there was yet another motive for stephen, said the prosecutor -- a potential payout. >> usaa life insurance company. >> an insurance representative testified about a $500,000 policy taken out against jody scharf months before her death, payable to a primary beneficiary. >> can you tell us the policy owner. >> stephen f. scharf.
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>> jody scharf was simply worth more dead than alive. her friend marion said jody feared stephen might do something violent if she pushed for the divorce. even so, she said, jody was determined to get away from her husband. >> she was going to have divorce papers served on stephen, and she was very afraid of it. >> yet, was stephen violent enough to kill his wife? an unlikely but powerful witness was about to testify against stephen scharf. >> i'm here for my mother. >> his own son took the stand against him. now a businessman, jonathan scharf painted his father as an angry, violent man who terrorized his mother. >> did you see that abuse? >> i did. >> jonathan scharf said he realized his father had likely killed his mother only after that arrest in 2008.
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this videotaped interview shows him recalling the dark past for the first time to police. >> now, in court, he had even more to tell about his childhood, like the afternoon he sat cowering in the back seat of a car watching his mother suffer. >> my mom was driving and my dad just hitting her with the bottom of his fist. and i was, like, begging him to stop doing it. >> he also remembered the last day of his mother's life. he was 10 and said his mother told his father that she didn't want to go out with him alone. >> she said, if i wanted to go out with you, i wouldn't be divorcing you. >> but where was the proof that stephen had planned to kill jody that night? well, there was the hammer in the picnic bag, but there was also testimony from this woman, one of stephen's old
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girlfriends. >> i even mentioned to my girlfriend that it was a perfect relationship. >> terri schofield had been dating stephen months before jody scharf's death. >> did mr. scharf tell you whether or not he was married? >> actually he said he was not married. >> and she remembered something strange stephen said to her on the beach over that labor day weekend. >> he was under a lot of stress and the stress would be resolved by the end of september. >> two weeks later, jody scharf was dead. terri now sees that cryptic statement in a dreadful light. >> i was, like, oh, no, the end of september. then the light bulb went off immediately. >> it also went off for marion. in perhaps the most chilling testimony of the prosecution's case, she told the jury that when she heard her friend was gone, she immediately remembered something jody said just weeks earlier.
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>> she said that during this conversation i have with him, if anything happens to me, you'll know who did it. you'll know it was him. >> the prosecutor's position was clear. a husband with a motive, the perfect setting, the violent intent to kill his wife. or was there another way of looking at that couple perched high on those cliffs that night? stephen's wife says the prosecution has it all wrong. >> my husband is not capable. that is not the man he is. my husband is sweet, kind, loving, considerate. >> the prosecutor -- >> the defense was ready to show how stephen scharf, far from villain, was the real victim in this story. coming up -- >> they destroyed the crime scene area. >> new questions about the evidence. and was there another reason why a son might implicate his dad? >> who does the money go to? >> it goes to me. >> when "dateline" continues.
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and get free shipping! you want to save money on car insurance? no problem. you want to save money on rv insurance? no problem. you want to save money on motorcycle insurance? no problem. you want to find a place to park all these things? fuggedaboud it. this is new york. hey little guy, wake up! aw, come off it mate! geico. saving people money on more than just car insurance. stephen scharf is not guilty! >> 18 years after the death of his first wife, more than a decade after the investigation
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first stalled, stephen scharf was being called a killer. but his defense attorney ed balinkas argued there was no new evidence in this case, no new eyewitnesses. only new opinions. >> we're talking about the same old facts and circumstances. >> balinkas says the state was hoping to win a murder conviction by painting his client as a terrible husband, that it couldn't prove he was a killer in 1992 and it couldn't prove it today. >> my client, stephen scharf, has been wrongfully charged with her death. >> one reason the prosecutor couldn't prove murder has to do with sloppy police work. >> you never photographed the body before you moved it, did
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you? >> no, sir. >> why didn't they take photographs? they destroyed the crime scene area. >> they didn't even bother to question potential eyewitnesses, he said. instead they cleared visitors from the lookout. there might have been someone who saw something or heard something. >> there might have been. that's a possibility that might have happened. >> and if police were so suspicious of his client two nights later, the defense said, why didn't they videotape their interview with him? that way jurors could have judged stephen scharf's supposedly odd demeanor for themselves. why didn't you? >> not an interrogation. he wasn't in custody. i don't know. >> the defense attorney also argued that police misinterpreted what his client said in his home just hours later. >> my client never said this wasn't an accident. >> and as for that hammer police thought was a weapon? >> the hammer was examined by the forensic experts.
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there was nothing found on that hammer. >> and the defense attorney pressed the medical examiner on her flip-flop, undetermined manner of death in '93, now it was a homicide? really? >> are you trying to say that you're learning from your mistakes on this case? >> you may call them mistakes, sir. i did the best i could in 1992 documenting what i had observed with mrs. scharf. >> the medical examiner was helpful to the defense in one critical way, though. she determined that jody had been drunk the night she fell off the cliff. jody had a blood alcohol level of 0.12. that was over the legal limit. >> would be the equivalent of approximately four average-size drinks, wine or beer, something like that. >> a drunken slip and fall, argued the defense. to back that up, the lawyer had his own heavy hitter, famed
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forensic pathologist dr. cyril wecht. he boasted a resume of star-studded investigations, too, as high profile as the prosecution's dr. badden. only wecht had a totally different take on how jody scharf died. >> i would call this an accidental death. >> in wecht's version, which he demonstrated with, of all things, a teddy bear, jody fell off the cliff and onto jagged rocks just below, causing her mortal wounds. her body then catapulted. >> and out goes the body, and it it hurls into the air. >> into the tree canopy, which then carried her through the abyss and into that distant tree. >> this is what i think happened to explain those injuries of the chest and the head. >> but there was another bubble to burst in the prosecution's case. the motive for murder. stephen scharf wasn't a greedy
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killer, his attorney said. his client never made a claim on that insurance policy. it was only after the money was turned over to the state, years later, stephen scharf, that he even bothered to collect. >> would it throw fuel on the fire to not do it? wow, i know i look guilty, i am guilty so i better not make this claim. >> you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. >> the other alleged motive, divorce, was flimsy, he said. jody and stephen had talked breakup for years. the divorce papers just the latest salvo in an ongoing marital spat. the prosecutor paints a picture of someone who, frankly, is furious about this divorce. >> no one person ever indicated that my client was furious over this divorce. they had talked about divorce for years. maybe she was saying one thing
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and not following through. >> though it is true stephen scharf did not want a divorce, he says he wanted to give the marriage another chance. and as for that former girlfriend, terri schofield? she recounted stephen's mysterious statement just before jody's death. >> just give me until the end of september and everything will be okay. the stress will be -- a lot of the stress will be gone. >> the defense attorney says that was stephen's clumsy way of trying to dump his girlfriends. and, speaking of which, he added, those other women did not bother jody at all. she was seeing other people herself. >> the person on the bottom half in both of those is who? >> jody scharf. >> the record keeper of a dating service testified that jody's name was on an application. she even checked off the interests she'd like to share with a mate. the attorney offered that as
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proof of stephen and jody's open marriage. but what really rankled the defense, what had torn at the heart of stephen scharf, was the testimony of his son jonathan. >> remember her showing me her bruises. >> he had painted his father as a brute and possibly a killer. >> i never hit jody. it made me sick to my stomach. >> the young man wasn't to be believed, said the lawyer. for one thing, when police interviewed jonathan back in 2008, the young man described his dad as a good guy. >> i think he was a fairly decent guy. >> it was only after detectives told him his dad had just been arrested that the son turned on his father. >> before you found out that your dad was arrested, did you lie? >> yes. >> and did you lie more than
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once? >> yes. >> why would jonathan turn on his father and lie? the defense lawyer said it was jonathan, not his dad, who was motivated by greed. if stephen scharf was convicted, his son would get all that insurance money. >> who does the money go to? >> it goes to me. >> in the end, the lawyer called stephen scharf's son a spoiled brat -- >> that sounds like some spoiled kid. >> -- who was not a credible witness. in closing, balinkas insisted that this wasn't a murder case, just a sad story about a woman who tumbled drunkenly to her death. >> this case is an accident, nothing more, nothing less. >> soon it would be in the hands of a jury. coming up -- >> it was the light bulb. you couldn't help but think, hmm, that's interesting. >> the jurors speak and so does the accused.
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act now, act now! like he said... ♪
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18 years after a night that ended in his wife's death off a cliff, stephen scharf stood accused of murder by the state of new jersey. and through it all one thing he wants you to know is this -- he would never have laid a hand on his beloved jody. never. stephen, did you kill your wife jody? >> i did not hurt jody! i did not! >> did you throw her off the palisades? >> i did not. i did not.
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i didn't hurt jody. i didn't push her. i didn't cause her to get hurt. i didn't kill my wife. >> we talked to stephen scharf at the bergen county jail where where he was held ever since his arrest in 2008. he and his wife tina say they've paid a high price for something he didn't do. >> we visit through a plate glass. our daughter is 2 1/2 and has still never been held by her father because we don't have contact visits. >> it's not just a tragedy for jody, it's a tragedy for john. it's a tragedy for my wife, it's a tragedy for my daughter. and for myself. >> still, he decided not to take the stand in his own defense but told "dateline" that what he said 18 years ago about his wife's death is the truth. >> i wish it didn't happen. i wish we had gone to the comedy
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club. but i didn't -- i'm innocent. >> but had the jury gotten that same message? when they walked into that deliberating room for the first time, some jurors, in fact, planned to vote not guilty. >> there wasn't enough evidence for me. that's what it was. >> others were thinking guilty. >> it was several things. it was no one thing that had made up my mind. >> the jurors went back and forth over the evidence. and here's what they came to believe, that jody was likely drunk and that her husband knew it, and if that was the case why would he let her get so close to the edge of a cliff? >> as the husband, knowing that your wife was drinking, would you bring her there? >> the jurors deliberated for three days before deciding whether stephen scharf should be found guilty or not guilty of a single count of murder. >> on the charge of murder of jody ann scharf, your verdict is? >> guilty. >> guilty.
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later, jurors said what united them was the testimony of jody's friend, telling them that jody was terrified of her husband. >> that possibly she was telling everyone, if something happens to me it's my husband. >> and it was another woman in stephen's life who also swayed the jury. terri schofield recounting what stephen said to her weeks before jody's death, that his stress would soon be over. >> once i heard that, that was something that pushed me towards what we decided in the end, was that statement. >> it was the light bulb. when she first said it, you couldn't help but think, hmm, that's interesting. >> to them, it wasn't jody who slipped but her husband with that menacing statement. they believed it wasn't just a fall from the cliff, it was a cold-blooded execution.
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but stephen scharf says they condemned him for all the wrong reasons, not on the facts of his wife's death but on his and jody's tumultuous open marriage. so you think this was a moral judgment on the part of the jurors. >> yes. and i suppose some people would say, well, he was punished for his moral weakness. but this is a murder trial. >> but for rescuer michael chiafi, it's a fitting end to a story that's haunted him since that night on the palisades. >> this has never left me. it's been years. i went back there myself without people knowing it several times because it bothered me. something was wrong. >> for close friends like marion, the verdict does not remove the sting of the loss. >> i'm angry that he took the life of a beautiful person. that's what bothers me the most. that he would do that and think that he was going to get away with it. he wanted the insurance money. he wanted his son.
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he'd have the house. he'd have whatever he wanted. and she'd be out of the way. now i think that was sad >> that's all for now. i'm ann curry. for all of us here at nbc news, thanks for joining us. viwww.cotac. m ---- www.vitac.com this sunday, here we go again. this sunday here we go again, down to the wire on a debt deal as america's red ink tops $15 trillion this week, the so-called super committee, charged with tackling the deficit is on the brink of failure, and again, the issue is taxes. has anything changed in washington since the debt downgrade of the summer? >> the american people may have voted for divided government but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government. >> is it too late for a break-through now? what are the consequences of inaction, and is compromise on the big issues of taxes,
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entitlements and government spending even possible in a presidential election year? this morning, two key voices from the bipartisan committee, republican whip of the senate, jon kyl of arizona and the senior senator from massachusetts, democrat john kerry. kyl and kerry on the debt fund. then back to the campaign trail. newt gingrich is up in the polls but battling his past. this time his high-priced work on behalf of mortgage giant freddie mac. herman cain stays in the top tier, despite another foreign policy lapse. >> i dot no agree with the way he handled it for the following reason. uhm -- nope, that's a different one. >> and rick perry is looking for a comeback by getting personal with president obama. insights and analysis from our roundtable, republican strategist mike murphy and ed gillespie and former white house

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